I received an email from a fellow webmaster today. It was a request to remove a link from my “Barefoot Chronicles” blog (the predecessor to BRU.) At first, I was confused by the request. The link was directed to a random shoe store in the UK. I don’t link to random stores.
If there’s a link on my sites, even advertising, it’s from a source I know and respect. For example, the Luna ad that’s currently here on BRU is there because I know the Luna guys personally. I’ve used the shoes. I would recommend them.
This random UK shoe store? Never heard of them.
The link in question was left in my comments section. It was a brief, nonsensical comment that also included a link to this store. Businesses do this because the more incoming links you have, the higher Google (and other search engines) rank your site. The higher your site is ranked, the higher Google ranks your site in searches.
By spamming the comments section of blogs with links back to your site, you can artificially increase your Google rank, which this business obviously did. Sounds great, right?
Unfortunately for this site (and fortunately for the rest of us legitimate business folks) Google occasionally checks these links for this very reason. It’s one of the methods Google uses to assure the search results are actually providing useful information. If Google discovers illegitimate links (such as spamming the comments section of blogs), the website is penalized by dramatically lower rankings. This can be the kiss of death for any online retailer.
So… this webmaster got caught. And he sent me an email to remove the offending link.
Not bloody likely.
I spend an hour or two each week deleting bullshit spam from people like this. This was a major reason I went to WordPress over Blogger… better automated anti-spam protection. There’s no way in Hell I’m going to help these spam-fuckers resolve their well-deserved punishment.
The Danger of “SEO”
Over the years, I’ve studied ways to increase traffic to websites. The methodology falls into three broad categories:
- Create awesome content
- Optimize your site so web crawlers can easily find your content
- Ferret out “shortcuts” that fool the search engines
The first two are a given… it’s the idea I promote with posts like this recent one about audience-building. The last one… that’s the bread and butter of most “search engine optimization” experts.
Search engines like Google use a complex algorithm to rank websites. The SEO weasels attempt to decipher the methodology and develop “hacks” that artificially boost a website’s search engine relevance. You’ve probably noticed this when blog posts will use the same or nearly same phrase ten times in the first paragraph. Or you find ten websites with close to the same article all linking back to the same source. Or you see nonsense comments on blogs with a link to a business.
And all will be penalized once the search engine catches on. And they will catch on.
The Best Solution
Like anything else in life, web traffic happens the exact moment you stop worrying about web traffic. Don’t piss around with “ninja hacks” to drive people to your site. Instead, produce compelling content that people want to consume and share.
GIVE the gift of interesting, educational, or inspirational content.
If you succeed at that, traffic will take care of itself.
What if I’m Running a Business?
In the event you’re running a business, it may seem like your only option is to either pay for advertising or resort to these crap-ass annoying spammer techniques.
How about some case studies?
The website that was spamming my blog comments section sucks. It consists of nothing but products. There’s nothing compelling about the site at all. In short, the webmaster wasn’t willing to invest the time or effort to producing something useful AND was too cheap to pay for legitimate advertising. Instead, he relied on spamming my blog.
Worth noting- the spamming occurred in 2010. Odds are good the site was new and the webmaster didn’t have the budget to advertise. Instead of doing the right thing and taking the time to produce useful content, he spammed blogs. And it worked. Until it didn’t.
Now that stupid decision is coming back to haunt him. Google caught on. Since the site has no other redeeming value, traffic will likely plummet. So will sales.
You reap what you sow.
Let’s look at another site that does it right: Online Shoes.
Their website features a blog and many videos discussing the products they sell. They also produce material that is loosely associated with shoes, such as videos about running form (these were filmed at their office in Seattle after they brought me in to conduct a clinic for their staff.)
Yes, I’ve actually met these folks. They’re cool cats. They genuinely care about their audience. They spend A LOT of time, effort, and money making content that will help people whether they are customers or not. Their site is popular because they produce awesome content people want to share.
This is the methodology businesses SHOULD use.
The lesson is simple- if you have a website or business, grow it by producing awesome content and/or providing something of value. Don’t rely on knob-fuck methods like spamming blogs. Worse, don’t PAY someone to spam blogs for you.